UN war crimes prosecutor in Serbia to discuss failed hunt for fugitives


A UN war crimes prosecutor arrives in Serbia Thursday to discuss the country’s failure to capture top fugitives and reported claims that the US struck a secret deal with the wartime Bosnian Serb leader not to hunt him down.

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the UN’s tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, will meet senior Serbian officials, including Rasim Ljajic. Ljajic said Wednesday that Serbia’s war crimes prosecutors were investigating claims that the US made a deal with former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic under which Washington agreed not to seek his capture if he left political life and disappeared. After her visit to Belgrade, Del Ponte is to deliver a report to the UN that will determine whether Serbia can sign a pre-membership aid and trade pact with the European Union. The bloc has said the accord will remain on hold until Belgrade shows its full cooperation with the tribunal. Olga Kavran, Del Ponte’s spokeswoman, said the alleged deal between the US and Karadzic will be a part of the discussions in Belgrade, even though the UN war crimes prosecutors have no concrete evidence that such a deal existed.

Ljajic, who is in charge of Serbia’s cooperation with the Netherlands-based tribunal, said the investigators have been questioning Serbs who were involved as mediators in negotiations between former US envoy Richard Holbrooke and Karadzic in 1996. That deal resulted in Karadzic leaving politics, a year after he was indicted by the UN tribunal for genocide for atrocities carried out by Bosnian Serb troops during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

The investigation is looking into claims by international media and Serbian officials that have persisted since 1996 that Karadzic must have received something in return for his agreement with Holbrooke to leave politics. While making the agreement with Karadzic to leave politics, Holbrooke and the US State Department have repeatedly denied that this deal included US guarantees that he would not be hunted. Holbrooke told The Associated Press Wednesday that he had not offered Karadzic such terms in return for leaving politics. “What a surprise. Every six months someone makes this claim” Holbrooke said. “This is old-style Soviet misinformation.” Holbrooke said he believed that Karadzic first spread the claim and that it has been given credence because the former politician has not been captured. “Karadzic began saying this in 1996 to save face,” Holbrooke said.

Karadzic disappeared from public view in 1998. He is believed to be hiding either in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia, or in Serbia. The US has offered a $5 million (€3.5 million) reward for information leading to his capture. Del Ponte has repeatedly accused NATO and EU-led troops in Bosnia of “lacking political will” to arrest Karadzic and his wartime Bosnian Serb army commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, another top war crimes fugitive. Del Ponte has also criticized Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials for doing too little to hunt them down. Karadzic and Mladic, who is also on the run, are accused of orchestrating the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim boys and men from Srebrenica — Europe’s worst carnage since World War II — and laying a three-year armed siege to the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. (

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